Thursday, October 15, 2009

A great, fledgling Spanish blog


I want to let all of my local friends who are working on their Spanish game know about a great new blog that's written by my former Spanish teacher in Chicago. Juan's approach is all about keeping it simple. When we have time to think about what we're saying, most of us extranjeros do a pretty solid job. But in the moment, we can get confused and mix things up. The key is of course getting practice. But if you can follow Juan's advice, keep things simple and learn the rules in way that makes them stick, you're nearly there.

It's gone through a few name changes, and it's currently called El Diario de un Profesor de Español. I highly recommend bookmarking the page as every time he posts something it either solidifies what I thought I already knew, or corrects me where I've been wrong.

Still no internet en casa. Hopefully we'll get this situation figured out soon. At least it now appears that the lavaropas disaster has been "ironed out." Jajaja.....ja. Ja.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Where You Been?

Hi Gang,

Sorry for the utter lack of posting in this and the other two blogs for, well, about a month now. I have moved. I do not have internet at home. My company has gone fascist and decided that large portions of the internet shall be off-limits. This includes the place where I create postings. So, I write this note to anyone who may be coming back here, expecting updates on my life and other ramblings. There is SO MUCH to discuss, but no way to blog about it yet. Anyway, sit tight and we should have this crap figured out soon. I hope so, anyway.

Just for the sake of giving you a taste, here's a view from my window (many, many more to come):

Monday, August 17, 2009

The End Is the Beginning

Credit: The majority of the photos here were taken by Karen and posted to Facebook. She did a fantastic job with them.

I've written here many times about Ultimate here in Argentina, though it's been a little while since I've given you an update. But there was recently big, big news. The Fall League was the most organized and competitive the country of Argentina has seen. There were early stumbles with the securing of fields and occasionally ironing things out between teams. But with a lot of heartfelt effort by the leaders of this organization, things eventually progressed. We had regular league parings every Sunday, and nearly all of them came off without too much trouble. This is assuming that spirited disagreements with the local futbolistas doesn't constitute much trouble.
Just like me, the league is looking for space to land

Big Red dropped the last game of the previous season to Discosur and then a hardfought season opener to Cadillacs. But since then, we had been on a real tear, winning the rest of our games, most of them by a healthy margin. But the team really earned those victories. We began practicing once a week on Wednesday nights, rain or stars. We added Saturdays as well, working on the Ho Stack, zone D, conditioning and a litany of other in-game pointers. As always, Mike shared his knowledge with a positive attitude. By the end of the season, we were a well-oiled machine. We were confident, but in the playoffs anything could happen.

Partly because of the Swine Flu and vacations for some of their key members, The semi-finals were set for Saturday against Cadillacs. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up on the timing and the two teams did not arrive at the same time. We technically could have asked them to forfeit, but a near unanimous vote meant the game was on and the winner would go to the finals. We came out on fire, being sufficiently warmed up, and cruised to a 15-3 win. Cadillacs were short on ladies, but did their best to keep playing hard through the last point.

Waiting for us in the finals was Aqua, the newest team in Argentina. Led by a Colombian nicknamed Chapi, they had also been practicing and shown a lot of improvement. Chapi wasn't there the first time we played them, and was battling injuries in the second go-round, so this was an entirely new game. What transpired was the most intense game I've played in any sport since I was in high school. That's a good thing. Normally when people stroll by the park and see these crazy young people runing around throwing frisbees, they think we're crazy. With the intensity ratched up, lots of fans in attendance, and everybody screaming the whole time, we seemed all the more certifiable.
Dani outstretches Chapi for the disc

Big Red went up early (5-1), but Aqua fought back the whole game, cutting the score to 8-7 right after halftime. The key plays all blur together. Carlos making an incredible D in the endzone. Checho coming out of nowhere to sky behind me and my faulty knee for a huge point. Martin playing like an unleashed animal, continuing his fine performance from the semis. Dani faking a throw, knowing Chapi had no choice but to make a play for the block, then calmly throwing for the score. Fer getting open in the corner of the endzone for a key point... and many more plays I can't remember. Every single player made a huge contribution.
Checho wins the battle

As the game drew to a close, we capitalized on Aqua's few mistakes, and tightened our game. Up 13-10, Chapi poached off of me, and I darted to the endzone. I nearly dropped the disc, but managed to haul in Point #14, just barely over his outstretched arm. Soon after, a wide open Emi was sprinting to the other endzone's front corner where he caught the game-winner, putting the fall season into the books.
Point 14

After a pretty wild celebration in the endzone, we did the spirited thing and congratulated Aqua on a great game. Both of these teams had improved by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season, and deserved to feel proud.
Todos con buen espiritu

But now that the most official season in Argentine history was completed, how to go forward? This is a difficult question. Clearly, the season was a great success, but the league is in many ways still like a toddler in the great scheme of things. I suggested some ideas and was subsequently invited to a planning meeting disguised as an asado. That's my favorite kind of meeting! Maxi had 11 of us over to his house, made some excellent meat, and cooked it all in the rain. In sum, we had six Argentines and six extranjeros, three players from each team. We still have a ways to go when it comes to planning together, but everyone clearly cares a ton.
Maxi, el asador - undeterred by the rain

Now there's a foundation. We still have a lot of growing to do, but there are a lot of people contributing. The first step was an excellent hat tournament held this weekend. Unfortunately, mal clima (bad weather) and Pepe Nielsen conspired to keep me from participating the second day. But with six teams of at least 10 people each, it's clear that the momentum is continuing. Spring league, a possible trip to Medellin, and a likely return to Monte Hermoso are all indicators that there's a future for the sport here, and I'm really happy to be a part of it. We celebrate because we won the title. But we haven't stopped practicing.
Ladies and gentlemen, your fall league champions. Vamos BIG RED!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A gripe on the populous

In some ways, it would be fair to call could call Argentina a dirty place. This applies to the air pollution, the fact that nobody curbs their dogs, and most certainly the politics. After a busy and fun week in Chicago (post coming when I get around to it), we returned to Buenos Aires to find that the entire country was gripped with a fever of concern over the Influenza H1N1 (aka swine flu or gripe porcina). 80% of local news coverage is devoted to it, and suddenly major precautions are being taken. This was an abrupt change. When we left, there were a few mentions of the issue, but nobody was taking it very seriously.

I've been here long enough to say that Argentina is my home. As Josh eloquently put it, I'm living in Argentina, not just having a brief jaunt around the world. And as you can hopefully tell from the rest of this blog, I really love it here. But of course there are things I wish were different. The interesting thing is, nearly everything that's wrong with this country is evinced by this situation with swine flu.

Some of you may recall that over my first five months in town, I got sick six times. It was a steady practice of bedrest with a whole lot of nose blowing mixed in. I attributed it mainly to the probable slew of germs new to my immune system mixed with my attempts at living the Argentine lifestyle of staying out later than the moon and stars every weekend. While these were likely the main causes, other factors were likely culprits as well. The level of preventative hygiene, particularly surrounding food and drinks is completely different here. And by different, I mean lower. People regularly drink from the same glasses, or when sharing mate, the same straw. Same goes for food. For instance, I recently saw employees at Blockbuster sharing a half-kilo of ice cream and only using one spoon between the three of them. It's part of the charm. There's just no premium on cleanliness here. I can't count the number of times a waiter has put my fork on the table by holding the tines directly in their fingers. I'm not exactly Howie Mandel, but I have been accused of being a bit of a germ freak before. While these saliva-sharing habits gave me the willies a bit at first, I readily embraced the new culture and hoped for the best. And yes, I was sick six times early on, but I've been healthy since Christmas and haven't changed my habits.

So I was extremely curious about all the new behavior that greeted my return from Chicago. Before we were allowed to deplane, everyone had to don surgical masks and hand a form saying we had no symptoms to two young ladies wearing white labcoats. Then we were allowed to remove the masks.
Deemed clean enough.

While this was a rather cursory check that wouldn't stop anyone who wouldn't readily volunteer their condition anyway, when I got to the office later that day, I was surprised to see some major changes. Alcochol-based hand disenfectant had been dstributed to every room in the building. Signs were posted in the building instrucing people on how to wash their hands, and why it is so bloody important. Not only that, people were actually doing it a lot more than before. Some refused to shake hands or even greet in the normal kissing fashion. When someone on the streets would sneeze or cough, others would jump away as if they were spilling sulfuric acid before casting dirty looks at the person who was obviously trying to maliciously murder the whole country.
Employees anywhere and those without jobs should really be doing this kind of thing anyway.

But why such a sudden change? The conventional wisdom is that with an impending election, the government hid the real figures from the public regarding how many cases of swine flu had occurred. The original indications were that there had only been a handful of cases, but after the election they released the "real" numbers and suddenly there were 60 reported deaths. This conventional wisdom falls in line with others such as the government-published rate of inflation versus the figures presented by independent organizations. While inflation is one thing, this is a whole different level. How can the government in a country with a large population of people who live at very low income levels be so craven on such an important and dangerous issue? In the elections, the reigning party got beat pretty badly, so it either didn't work or people have become fed up with them.

But all of this leads to the more important question of whether they are still lying about the numbers now. Rumors abound, and there are wide opinions on every side of the issue. Some say "it's all a show, this is no big deal." But others are legitimately worried because they have connections to some who have gotten sick or died. Honestly, we really don't know what to believe. My opinion is that things are overstated, and some other news event will soon knock the swine flu off the front pages. But I know some very intelligent and educated folks who are taking every precaution and very nervous about the situation. I always washed my hands before eating and after riding on the colectivo, so other than making sure I get a morning orange juice more frequently I haven't changed my behavior or outlook very much. This too shall pass.

The sad thing about all of this is the reaction of the citizens. They should be outraged. Don't get me wrong, it's not like George Bush didn't pull this kind of crap all the time with the terrorist threat level, but even he and Cheney didn't intentionally go this far. The government put everyone living here in serious jeapoardy to score some political points. But when I ask about it, most of my friends and coworkers smile, shrug, and say "It's Argentina." They are resigned to put up with this kind of thing because they just assume that whoever would step in to replace the current leaders would do an equally terrible job. Nobody thinks the politics will improve no matter who's in charge. OK, so maybe there's no hope for the political future of Argentina (at least, nobody ever seems to have any), but will the hand-washing be a permanent change? And maybe restaurants can clean the silverware every now and again? After all, we pay just to sit down. This extranjero would really appreciate at least some good to come of this, and the overall improvement in health of a nation would be ideal. I'm not optimistic, but just in case I'm keeping my fingers crossed (and clean).

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cariló's Way

Because I am so far behind on my postings in this space, this one is going to consist largely of photos and my usual silly captions. Not long after our trip to Villa General Belgrano, Belu and I took another writing sabbatical weekend to another peaceful and picturesque locale here in Argentina. This time, it was Cariló, an oceanfront community that has no paved roads and a lot of wealthy tourists. For this weekend, I suppose that included us. We drank mate, ate a ton, played on the beach (but not in the frigid water), failed to find a way to tune in to the Bulls' last playoff game, and I even got some writing done. I highly recommend Cariló, but only if you're staying in a nice, secluded place and don't hang out all day downtown to fight the crowds of self-important folks. Anyway, that's how we played it. The photograpic evidence:
Downtown Cariló in a more peaceful moment.

Breakfast delivered to the house every morning. Gooooood stuff.

Atop these tall trees, there were many, many birds nests with many, many little birdies. You could tell when the parents were away gathering food because the birdies were going berserk, tweeting their brains out. Not so different from a typical Argentine child at any moment during its existence.

I don't know what these birds were, but they were poking around in the ground for food. Maybe they needed to fill up before flying back to the noisy nests.

This snail is not here anymore, but he left us his old clothes as a gift.

Who knew mushrooms could grow in sand? By the way, this thing was huuuuuge.

With your pizza, you can get a Kokicola or Eleven-Up (I'm kidding - probably).

Belu at the front door to our place for the weekend. Muy lindo!

Abuela Goya makes some really good helado. Belu tries to magically get more from her.

...while I'm busy trying to make nice..

We, uhhh, got fondue twice. Once with meat/oil, and once with cheese. This is the cheese version. Belu is in charge of the long fork at the moment and will heretofore have an additional nickname --> The Fondue Master. (McRae, we ate this in your honor both times.)

I guarantee you that this dessert is bigger than it looks in this picture. By the way, we Uncle Frank'd it. For those who don't know (ok, nearly all of you), that means we didn't leave a single morsel, even though we knew of the negative health consequences.

They sell a LOT of sweets in this town. This is a chocolate store with loads of good stuff including rows and rows of chocolate huevos.

I'm smiling because I thankfully can't feel my feet anymore. The first 30 seconds were frighteningly painful.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How do you solve a problem like María?

Recently overshadowed by Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson, and Michael Jackson, you may have heard that my new home country found itself in the American news recently, through no fault of its own. Well, no fault other than being home to oodles of beautiful women. (Upon first arriving, an American friend of mine was famous for saying "I fall in love every day" about his various walks about town.)

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford found himself madly in love with an Argentine gal. Hey, it happens. He was so enamored that he bolted from his office to hang out down here for five days without telling a soul where he was going. But you already know all of this. You also know that he called her his soulmate, but he was "trying to love his wife again." Yeah, that won't be used in the eventual divorce proceedings. You also probably know that in the sordid e-mails he sent to his South American flame, he quoted the bible. Yes, the holy one. And of course he was one of the holier than thou dudes who condemned Bill Clinton when he had his affair. And he's against gays getting married because allowing such a thing would trample the "sanctity" of the union. Blah blah hypocrisy blah.
Sanford covering an old Swaggart classic

But there are perhaps several things you don't know about this event because of course the MSM in the US hasn't bothered to really investigate anything. For instance, they continue to call Sanford's soul mate "Maria." Hardly anyone here goes by Maria. Half the women in the country are named María Middlename Lastname and every single one of them goes by their middle name. I have four Marias on my team at work, and none of them are called Maria. The New York Times keeps referring to her "Maria", but the woman was a freaking news reporter here and most of the photos we've seen show her using the middle name of Belén. (But hey, they won't call torture "torture" either, so why should we be surprised?) I realize this is a simple point and not a big deal, but it's also painfully obvious that they made a mistake. Unless Governor Sanford also called her "Maria" in which case he'd better take some time to get to know his soulmate a little better before jumping into a commitment that's going to cost him his professional career.
With the name printed plainly for all to see

More importantly, the story in the US surrounded only his tearful press conference, but who really bothered to find out what drew him to Argentina? I mean, that's a really long trip solely for a weekend of passion. This woman was probably a revelation to him, but why? Just because of her accent and lean physique? Was it because she was unlike any "Latina" he had met before? In all news reports, the word Argentina was emphasized for its weirdness. It is a weird place to go. In fact, considering the man was a family values republican it's the only thing that makes this story unique. (It's not like he was, say, soliciting gay sex in an airport bathroom.) But what exactly made this Argentine woman so special to Governor Sanford? He risked his entire political future just to be with her. And how did he convince himself that this was OK? Did she tell him that all Argentine men cheat on their wives and girlfriends to persuade him that when in Rome he should do as the Romans do? That's what I'd like to know. We'll probably have to wait for the eventual tell-all book.

I've written several times here about Belu in this space, the Argentine woman whom I fell for. She's another Maria - another María Belén in fact. Turns out that Sanford's Belén lives just two blocks away from mine. Also like Belu, she speaks English and Portuguese and is studying Chinese. She's a former news broadcaster and a divorcee. Based on that limited information, she does sound interesting, doesn't she? Furthering the odd coincidences, the couple's favorite restaurant, Guido's Bar, is also the place where Belu and I had our first date, our favorite restaurant, and a place we visit twice a month. The owner, a friend of Belu's, was on the local news talking about how the Governor was in there eating all the time. There's a certain possibility that we sat at the next table during one of Sanford's jaunts. I owe Guido's a proper posting in its own right, but let's just say that the pasta they serve is as good a reason to hop on a plane for 10 hours as any.

I heard a group of English speakers in my neighborhood just a few days before Sanford's big cry. It stood out because you don't see tourists in this area too often, especially older ones. Perhaps that was the Governor on his way to a parilla or maybe walking back from a night at Guido's. Whoever they were, they weren't crying. They seemed awfully happy to be hanging out in Palermo Chico. I feel the same way all the time, especially when I'm with my "Maria". Plus, I never have to feel guilty about it. My family knows where I am.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The last abnormal ramble

After enough time abroad, you're not really abroad anymore. Most of my friends who preceded me in a move to a random foreign country were very connected to their home life for the first six months. I was the same. Look at how the postings have dwindled lately. In my case, the job is playing a large role. June is the busy season around here, something nobody really told me about ahead of time. But more than that, the difficult thing is that your life abroad just becomes your life. You don't remember what's different about the new country you're living in - and probably things back home would seem strange if you went back to face them again. So this may be my last post in a long time about "those wacky South American things." Because after this, I can't tell the difference anyway. So without further ado, here are some quick hitters...

I've gotten pretty good at closing doors to taxis. This would seem like a simple process, but I was universally hollered at every time I got out of a cab for the first six months or so. It took me a while to even figure out why. The thing is, these cab doors are always really flimsy. They don't make the big gas guzzlers like we have in the states. They might as well be adobes. Plus, since I'm a big strong dude (at least by Argentine standards), I couldn't help it. Finally, I've managed to find my touch with the doors and have learned how to cierre suave. In fact, sometimes I start so weak I have to close it again. Yay me.

I had been seeing these signs all over town and had no idea what they were:
Clarence Beeks is running!

Apparently they're school crossings, but it's a bit goofy, no? I suppose the kid has a briefcase in his hand, but do you know any kids who take their briefcase with them to school? It could also be a boombox or perhaps a really big sandwich. Anyway I don't exactly see the drivers slowing down when they encounter one of these.

For the first time in my life, I have a maid who comes to clean my house. While I'm sure my mom would not approve (because these are things I should be able to do myself), the fact that she comes once a week, spends five or six hours in the apartment, and only costs 50 pesos per visit (current street value: 13 bucks), it's hard to pass the opportunity up. The thing is, both the maid at my house and the people who handle cleaning at work don't exactly do a phenomenal job. The bathroom and kitchen are relatively clean, but it's not exactly the overhaul I would like (yes, 13 bucks - I'm not complaining). The biggest thing is that they tend to rearrange things that don't need rearranging. OK, in my house maybe that makes sense. She's paid to clean the place, and if she has the urge to move one set of T-shirts to some other random drawer, who am I to complain? But at the office, the cleaners are constantly moving papers into different piles and onto different desks. In Schaumburg, the papers (those who've worked with me know there are always some piles) were always untouched, but not here. I find this more strange than unnerving, but shouldn't they be cleaning up the medialuna crumbs instead of trying to help me with my filing system?

A friend recently had a new daughter and immediately had her ears pierced. I knew they did this in India, but didn't know that it was common in any Western cultures, but here pretty much everyone does it. Also, they frequently shave the newborn baby's head because it's a "cleaner look." This is something I'm not close to getting used to.

There are a lot of US shows and movies that are very popular here. That's probably no surprise. The Simpsons trumps everything, although Friends is quite close - especially with the women. That said, I was very, very surprised to find the following array of DVD packs together on the shelf in a local bookstore:
Did you know there were four Critters movies? Did you also know that I'd rather watch them than the OC?

Any and all public construction projects take forever here. Yet it is not uncommon to see people working well into Saturday night on a new sidewalk or underground pipes. The most egregious example I saw was when they repaved the street around the corner from me. We had similar problems in Chicago. My friend Steve used to say that it appeared that the guy who comes to strip away the old street always forgets to tell the guy who's supposed to come and put down the new street that he's done his job. But here, it's like they don't even know that each other exist. I think it took over three months to get the new street put down. Yet the new high-rise next door to my apartment is going up in a real hurry. I hope it's structurally sound.

I haven't talked much in this space about mate because until recently I didn't drink it much. Thanks to the visit to Villa General Belgrano and under Belu's tutelige, I've become a fan. Mate is an herbal tea that is generally served in a hollowed out gourd and sucked down with a metal straw called a bombilla. It has a slightly bitter, but very natural flavor. The cool thing about mate is that it is meant to be shared amongst friends. The mate is filled with the herbs first (yerba) and then with hot water. Once a person has finished the water contained therein they pass the mate to the next person. It's got quite a kick and once you develop a taste for it, coffee seems less appealing. Here's a guy talking about his way of preparing mate:

Everyone here uses graph paper. I have yet to see a notebook with standard lined paper. And I'm totally used to that now. Also, they have been taught here that there are only six continents. North and South America are part of a joined big one. Doesn't that kind of blow your mind? Kind of like this

"Where's Waldo" is called "Donde está Wally?"

My team recently moved from the extremely posh office (universally believed to be the nicest office building in Buenos Aires) to the main Nielsen office. That was obviously a bummer for us, but the company is going to save a ton of money thanks to the move. There is one thing, however, I will not miss form that place. The stall door in the bathroom in the old office wouldn't just creak, it sounded like a train wreck that could be heard across the entire floor. It was pretty much like you were declaring: "Hey everybody! I'm gonna take a dump now!" Then, when you finished your business and opened the door again, the same screeching noise: "Hey everybody! I'm finished with my dump!" Also, it nearly locked you in there every time. So your post-dump announcement could come pretty late. The move-out day was really surreal. People came to buy all the furniture that hadn't already been moved out. It was a ghost-town of an office, only we were still working in it. I can't imagine what that must feel like for people when their business actually shuts down. Anyway, the new place is not nearly as nice, but at least you can use the bathroom without such a public declaration of your activities.

Last but not least, here's an ad from a publication we saw in Villa General Belgrano. I think it speaks for itself.
Translation: You find quality in Dick House

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Semana Santa en Villa General Belgrano

Note - this post comes very late. I'm way behind here, thanks largely to a busy work schedule. Please be patient...

One of the hardest things for me to accomplish here has been progress with my book. It's not that I haven't been eager to push forward with it or been struggling with writer's block. I simply don't have much time. My job keeps me very busy, Big Red Ultimate is now meeting three days a week, and then there's my often busy social calendar. On top of that, I'm putting a lot of energy into learning Spanish, even if it doesn't take up a particular chunk of time. The other area where I've been failing to do all I want is travel around Argentina. This was partly by design. I wanted to understand the city first, and wait for the travel until after my Spanish had improved a bit. But thus far, aside from the fabulous frisbee tournament in Monte Hermoso, I have been largely city-confined.

Belu had a great idea that would serve to jumpstart both of these endeavors. We could go off to the country and spend the long Easter weekend in a cabin where I could make some real progress with my writing. So we planned a trip to the province of Córdoba. Easter weekend is the longest holiday of the year, with everyone having Thursday and Friday off from work. This made for a troublesome beginning. All the extranjeros I know here have raved about the buses - that they run on time and are luxurious. Sure, compared to Greyhound, this is true. But the Wednesday night before a big weekend is not the time to be hanging at the BA bus station. This was a clamjamfry of epic proportions. But eventually, we were on our way.
This picture is just a small portion of the mess. I'd estimate that there were easily over 20,000 people at the station that night.
The bus trip passed fine, and when we awoke we were on the edge of the Cordobian Sierras. It's a bit weird to wake up on a bus in a foreign country to the squawking of the elderly ladies seated behind you. But weirder than that is the fact that we were, quite suddenly, not in the city anymore. There was actual landscape. The air wasn't just more crisp in our lungs, it looked cleaner. We still had a couple hours to go which allowed us to wake up gradually.

I really didn't know what I was in for. All I knew was that we were going to the mountains to stay in a cabin. It was probably the first time I'd done such a thing since my time with the Boy Scouts, although, I should say that there are cabins and there are cabins. This one had indoor plumbing, for instance. Our little area was several blocks outside of town and perfectly peaceful. All we could hear was the occasional bird.

This was certainly unlike any other place I'd been. The whole point of this little town is to highlight its German influence. All signs in town are on carved and painted wood. That seemed really weird to me since we're in Argentina. There is a long history of German immigration to Argentina, but it's still kind of weird to actually see it because in the city it's relatively nonexistent.

Things were a bit crowded in town. This is their biggest tourist weekend of the year. But that didn't stop us from taking an easy stroll around town. Here's Belu hanging out in front of a scenic arroyo.

Our plan was to be as self-sufficient as possible. We packed our own food. Belu was on mate detail. But it's kind of hard to bring fresh tomatoes on a long bus ride. That meant we had to hit the grocery store. Belu and I are both big fans of writing it all down and having a shopping list. Unfortunately, we stupidly forgot to bring a pen, and there was none in the cabin. So being the former boy scout in the group, I improvised. A charred matchstick would have to suffice.

Note the final item.

Our shopping resulted in some excellent, simple, and healthy meals. It's funny that nowadays we are hardly ever cooking at home, but we go on vacation and make every lunch and dinner ourselves. But breakfast was another story. It happened to be identical every morning, but delivered right to our door. An excellent loaf of bread, medialunas, and café con leche is a fine way to start any day.

Especially when can eat outside with a view like this one.

Nature was around, though mostly quiet nature. The most fascinating thing that happened was a group of ants who had come across a dead centipede. They spent the better part of a day trying to get it home. After moving it across our patio, they then had to take it up a five foot cement wall. This proved difficult as there either were not enough ants or not enough places for ants to help with the pushing. But it was amazing to watch.

Here's a shaky video of their efforts:

The poor little guys tried for hours to get this thing home. This is when our friend came into the mix. While we ate our breakfast, a neighboring bird was also eating his, darting around and finding bugs in the ground. He hung out very close to us, tweeting and eating. It took him more than a morning to realize that what the ants were up to on the other side of the building. But eventually he figured it out and ambled on by with an open beak.

In a matter of seconds, he swooped down and stole the centipede, probably along with a few ants who went along for the ride. He hopped away, seemingly content. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the little guys. To honor their futile efforts, we went out and got some tea. I mean, you're not going to stop at a casa de te named Hoffmeisterhaus? Of course you are!

Slightly buzzed from the tea served from the cutest tea-cozy ever, on our last night, we decided we'd had enough of the kitchen and deserved a dinner out. The town was overrun with tourists and we were forced to wait a very long time to sit, get menus, get a waiter, and order. But eventually, we took in some hearty German cuisine.

Not as good as my mom's, but a tasty finish to a long day. In the end, we had a wonderful time, both peaceful and fun. And perhaps the most important thing was that I got a lot of writing done for the first time since I arrived in South America. I just need to take more vacations like this, hunker down over the laptop, get a good mate buzz going, and occasionally put my feet up a bit to watch the sunset. With any luck, the book will be done before I have a kid going to college. But I'll have a great time writing it...

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